What Does Active Under Contract Mean in Real Estate Listings?

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By Bill Gassett Updated March 6, 2024


Online Real Estate Property Search And Web Listing

Are you looking at homes online and confused by the various listing statuses? If so, you are not alone. Many potential buyers need clarification on the multitude of property statuses.

A property marked as "active under contract" in real estate listings indicates a specific phase in the sales transaction. This status means a buyer has made an offer on the property, and the seller has accepted it.

However, the sale's completion hinges on certain conditions, commonly called contingencies, being met. These conditions often include home inspections, buyer financing approval, appraisal, and selling the buyer's current home. Being active under contract is also called contingent in real estate. Their meanings are the same.

Once a property is under a contract, the seller can still show the home and accept backup offers. This safety net allows sellers to keep their options open should the initial deal fall through due to unmet contingencies.

For buyers, this status implies competition and the possibility that their offer could become primary if the current deal fails.

From my experience as a Realtor for the past thirty-eight years, buyers and sellers need to know the meanings of listing statuses and their implications.

With this knowledge, you can make better decisions whether buying or selling a house. If you need clarification on the status meanings, consult your agent.

There Will Be Contingencies to Satisfy

The process from active under contract to closing involves several key steps. First, the buyer typically conducts a home inspection to identify any issues requiring repair before finalizing the purchase.

Concurrently, the buyer works with their lender to secure financing, which includes appraising the property's value. Should any contingencies not be met, the buyer or seller can opt to renegotiate or withdraw from the agreement. This is when backup offers could come into play.

Examples of the active under-contract phase can vary significantly based on the specific contingencies involved. For instance, a property may remain in this status longer if the buyer needs to sell their home before proceeding.

Conversely, transactions with fewer contingencies may move quickly to a pending status once those conditions are satisfied.

Implications for Buyers

For buyers, encountering an active property under contract can be both a challenge and an opportunity. While the property has an accepted offer, there's still a chance the current deal might not close.

Buyers interested in such properties should discuss the feasibility and strategy of making a backup offer with their agent. Making a compelling backup offer can position the buyer favorably should the initial deal fall apart.

Buyers should also understand that pursuing a property in this status may involve a waiting period as the initial deal's contingencies are addressed. Patience and maintaining flexibility in their home search are crucial.

Buyers might consider exploring other listings to take advantage of potential opportunities.

What is a Backup Offer?

A backup offer is a secondary offer on a property already contracted with another buyer. It serves as a safety net for the seller, allowing them to quickly move forward with the backup buyer if the primary deal falls through.

Buyers submit backup offers to express their interest in purchasing the property should the current agreement not close. This strategy positions the backup buyer favorably to buy the property without needing the seller to relist it.

Agents manage these offers, ensuring a smooth transition if the initial deal fails. Before moving forward, I would ask your buyer's agent about the pros and cons of a backup offer.

Much of the decision to write one could hinge on the local real estate market. Will other similar properties be coming on the market, or is this your dream home?

Implications for Sellers

For sellers, an active under-contract status can be advantageous. It allows them to continue marketing their property while working through the contingencies of the accepted offer. This strategy can lead to receiving backup offers, providing a safety net should the original deal fail.

Sellers should communicate clearly with their listing agent to understand the best practices for managing this period. It includes considering whether to accept backup offers and how to negotiate them.

The goal is to keep the sale process moving smoothly while ensuring they are positioned to close the deal effectively, either with the original buyer or a backup.

How to Navigate Active Under Contract as an Agent

Real estate agents are pivotal in navigating the active under-contract phase. Whether representing the buyer or the seller, they must adeptly manage their client's expectations.

For listings in this status, agents should provide buyers with realistic assessments of the situation and advise on the potential for submitting a backup offer. For sellers, agents must strategize on whether to accept additional offers and how to negotiate them to their client's best advantage.

Agents should also facilitate communication between all parties involved, ensuring that contingency-related processes are progressing as expected. This includes coordinating inspections and appraisals and addressing any issues that may arise.

By maintaining open lines of communication, agents can help ensure that transactions move forward as smoothly as possible.

How Does Pending Status Differ From Contingent or Active Under Contract?

Pending status signals a property's sale is almost complete. This status comes into play after all contingencies—like inspections, appraisals, and financing approvals—have been successfully met or waived. Maximum Real Estate Exposure sums this up well in their article.

The sale is now primarily waiting for the final paperwork and closing processes. At this point, the property is generally considered off the market, and no new offers are entertained.

Contingent status, as discussed, indicates that while an offer has been accepted, the completion of the sale is still dependent on certain conditions being fulfilled.

These conditions vary widely but typically include successful home inspections, the buyer securing financing, the property appraising at a sufficient value, and sometimes the sale of the buyer’s current home.

While a property is contingent, sellers may still accept backup offers if the original deal does not close due to unmet contingencies.

The critical difference between the two statuses lies in the number of hurdles left to clear before the sale can be finalized. Pending status means the path to closing is clear, with only administrative steps remaining.

Contingent status, however, reflects a sale is still vulnerable to falling apart if specific conditions are not satisfied. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for buyers and sellers to navigate their next steps in the real estate transaction process effectively.

How Long Do Homes Stay Active Under Contract?

Houses stay active under contract status for variable periods, typically from a few days to several weeks. This duration depends on the specific contingencies outlined in the contract, such as financing approval, home inspections, and any other conditions that must be met before proceeding to closing.

The timeline can be extended if issues require negotiation or further inspection. It makes the exact duration unpredictable and contingent upon the complexity of the sale conditions.

From experience, you can usually expect a home to remain contingent for three weeks or less. Many real estate agents will change the status to pending once all the inspections have been satisfied.


Understanding the "active under contract" status is essential for effectively navigating the real estate market. This status indicates that while a seller has accepted an offer, certain conditions must be met before the sale is final.

Buyers and sellers can navigate this phase to their advantage with the guidance of their real estate agents. All parties can make informed decisions by comprehensively understanding what it means when a property is active under contract.

A clear understanding is essential whether aiming to buy, sell, or manage properties in the ever-evolving real estate landscape.

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